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Bottoming cycles for electric energy generation: Parametric investigation of available and innovative solutions for the exploitation of low and medium temperature heat sources

  • Design
  • Physics


Many industrial processes and conventional fossil fuel energy production systems used in small-medium industries, such as internal combustion engines and gas turbines, provide low or medium temperature (i.e., 200-500 °C) heat fluxes as a by-product, which are typically wasted in the environment. The possibility of exploiting this wasted heat, converting it into electric energy by means of different energy systems, is investigated in this article, by extending the usual range of operation of existing technologies or introducing novel concepts. In particular, among the small size bottoming cycle technologies, the identified solutions which could allow to improve the energy saving performance of an existing plant by generating a certain amount of electric energy are: the Organic Rankine Cycle, the Stirling engine and the Inverted Brayton Cycle; this last is an original thermodynamic concept included in the performed comparative analysis. Moreover, this paper provides a parametric investigation of the thermodynamic performance of the different systems; in particular, for the Inverted Brayton Cycle, the effects of the heat source characteristics and of the cycle design parameters on the achievable efficiency and specific power are shown. Furthermore, a comparison with other existing energy recovery solutions is performed, in order to assess the market potential. The analysis shows that the highest electric efficiency values, more than 20% with reference to the input heat content, are obtained with the Organic Rankine Cycle, while not negligible values of efficiency (up to 10%) are achievable with the Inverted Brayton Cycle, if the available temperature is higher than 400 °C.

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